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Review: Can 4TheWords, the fantasy game for writers, be used for editing and other off-site writing?

by Mar 22, 2019Evergreen, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), On Writing: Craft and Commiseration1 comment

4TheWords review in a hurry: While sometimes buggy (as you’d expect from a work in progress), it’s well worth the occasional quirk for this fun and addictive game that motivates you to write more exactly as advertised! And while the site isn’t specifically built for editing or off-site writing, there’s a couple of easy ways to make either work.

Screenshot of the Town in 4TheWords
Hanging out in town, picking up some side quests from the King.

What is 4TheWords?

4TheWords (Get it? Like 4TW aka For The Win) is a fantasy style writing game where you defeat monsters, collect items and move forward in a quest all through writing. The idea is to gamify writing, giving you a little extra motivation to keep moving forward with your current work in progress… because you’re moving forward in the story of the game at the same time.

A writing game? How do you play 4TheWords?

By writing! Each monster requires a certain amount of time and a certain number of words to defeat but you can gain more time for each battle or defeat them in less words as you increase your battle stats. Defeated monsters drop items that you can use to progress in the game, move forward in the main story, complete side quests or craft other items. It’s a lot like your typical fantasy based RPG type game.

There is a main story line, side quests and even special events to coordinate with real world holidays and writing events like NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo. There are also special rewards and benefits for keeping up a writing streak (aka writing every day) as well as a wardrobe component where you can win clothes and accessories to customize your avatar. For example, I won most of the items I am using in this gloriously tacky ensemble between the Love Week event in February and last year’s NaNoWriMo event.

Screenshot of the avatar wardrobe select screen on 4TheWords
Dead sexy, no?

Is 4TheWords any good?

While your mileage might vary, I really like it. I have been using it regularly since July of last year when I joined in a desperate effect to kick myself in the pants and get more writing done and it has really kept me writing and motivated me to keep going on the days I didn’t feel like it. (Here’s my profile if you want to be buddies or just stalk my stats.) It’s fun and motivates as advertised.

But, like anything, it’s not perfect. It’s very much a work in progress so it’s often buggy or otherwise glitches, though the devs are very good about swooping into rescue you if a site issue eats your writing or costs you game progress. The game itself also has some quirks and it sometimes takes too much dang research to figure out who you need to be fighting to get what item and in what region when you just want to sit down and write but they are improving it all the time with suggestions from user. That part makes it feel like a really good site that will, eventually, be an amazing site once they tweak it more over time.

But, overall, I highly recommend it and if you were thinking of taking advantage of the 30 day free trial to try it out, input my referral code (AOZSY71632) when you sign up, you’ll get an extra 20 crystals (which is how you pay for everything from your monthly subscription to 4thewords and extra like wardrobe items) and I’ll get a bonus too.

If you want to know more about how much it costs (which can vary from about a dollar to $4+ a month depending on various factors), I did a huge breakdown of that here because the answer is needlessly complicated.

Now, there is one big downside to this game that I haven’t discussed above which is that all of the gameplay depends on you doing your writing directly into their compose window which wouldn’t work for me even if their compose feature worked perfectly (and it sooo doesn’t). But can you still use 4TheWords for editing or if you prefer to write in your own software offsite? Read on!

Editing on 4TheWords (and other off-site writing)

Here’s the thing about 4TheWords. I love the game element of it. I love all the little ways it motivates me to write more and keep writing after I would have normally quit. I love dressing my avatar in incredibly tacky outfits.

But the actual writing part? It’s not great. Their compose window is a laggy, buggy nightmare. Export never works right and the formatting comes from Satan himself. And 4TheWords is just a website, not an app or program, so you have to be online with a reliable internet connect to use it every time.

As you can probably tell, I really hate writing directly on the site. But the whole game is set up so that you have to write in their compose window so the site can track your progress against the monster you’re currently battling and get credit for those words to advance in the game so you’re stuck with it, right?

Well, no, because, believe me, if it was, I’d have been gone long ago. Being able to write offsite is a deal-breaker for me. I like to write in Scrivener. I write scripts that need much more complicated formatting than 4TheWords can cope with. I write formatted blog posts. I write offline. And I need to be able to track editing, which there is no way to officially do on 4TheWords.

So, as you probably guessed from the fact that I am still on the site and use it regularly, there is a workaround to having to write directly on the site and a way to track editing and still play the game that I want to share that with you.

Screenshot of the Battle Queue on 4TheWords
Those Puna are going down!

Playing 4TheWords while writing Off-Site

Here is how I play 4TheWords without writing directly on the site:

  • I do all of my writing for the day in whatever I normally would do it in. I may work on a script in Scrivener, compose a blog post in WordPress, and do a journal entry in my OneNote Notebook. No matter what I write in, throughout the day, I log all of my writing in my writing spreadsheet of glory like I always do. I almost never write on the actual 4TheWords site itself.
  • Then, at the end of the day, I take the total number of words I wrote across all my various writing platforms and I generate dummy text or lorem ipsum for that amount.
  • Next I go to 4TheWords, fill up my battle queue with enough monsters to match that word count.
  • Making sure that “Autostart Next” (and the bottom left of the queue box) is selected, I start the battle queue.
  • Once the queue has started, I head over to the file section to a document I call Offsite Writing Dump File. I clear out whatever was there from last time, paste the dummy text in for the total of today’s word count and, viola!
  • The site knocks off those monsters one by one (thank you, Autostart Next!) and counts my words towards the various battles, streaks and quests on the site that I find so motivating without me having to give up my preferred writing program!

A couple of notes for this method

  • I clear the document out each time because the site goes haywire with large documents, particularly over 10,000 words, and everything seems to work better if you start with a blank document.
  • As mentioned above, the compose window is buggy and sometimes it doesn’t count words at all or doesn’t count all of them and you’ll have to input the text more than once or add some extra. Sometimes it helps to “prime the pump” and write a few random words before you paste the text in or to break a big chunk of text up into smaller batches.
  • Because of the above bugginess and the fact that you are just copy and pasting your words in instead of writing in real time, your time-based writing stats will always be somewhat useless or your count a little off, if you care about that.
  • Depending on your battle stats, you may be able to queue up more words worth of monsters than actual words you wrote (because your Attack stats reduce the number of words it takes to defeat each monster) and thus accomplish more in the game with the same words. I’ll talk more about that below.

But what about the monster’s battle timers?

Each monster has a time limit, you see, in which you have to write the words to defeat them. And I know some people struggle to get writing done within a certain time frame so please understand that no shame is meant when I say that I, personally, have never come anywhere close to the amount of time they give me for a monster so I don’t consider them worth, well, considering.

I type really fast and my battle stats stretch that time frame out even more and so, to me, it’s not even a part of the game I have to think about. I mean, there are literally monsters for which the timer is multiple days long for a couple of thousand words. We’re not talking about super fast word sprints here or anything.

But, if you are someone that struggles with defeating monsters within the time limit, writing offsite and then copy and pasting it in later might be a great way for you to get the words done but take that timed pressure off.

Makes it easier to play the game

My writing time is so erratic and unpredictable, I would only ever be able to start tiny 100 word monster battles because that’s the longest I know I could do without being interrupted and I would never be able to progress in the game. But because I save all my words to “cash in” at the end of the day, I can be smarter about playing the game, doing several big monsters at a time that help me progress, planning my battles out strategically instead of just grabbing the smallest monster I think I’ll have time for. It lets me make the best use of my words from a gameplay standpoint.

But isn’t that cheating?

The official 4TheWords stance on cheating is: you can’t. There is no such thing as cheating at 4TheWords. 4TheWords is a tool designed to help motivate you to write so, however you make the site work for you, that’s fine with the makers.

So, since things like writing off-site and editing are not built into the site (yet, anyway!), everyone has kind of made up their own way of doing it and that’s just fine! Think of it as playing Monopoly by the house rules… whatever makes it work for your situation is fine by everyone else!

Screenshot of an avatar on 4TheWords
This is how my avatar dresses when I mean business!

Editing on 4TheWords

So while writing new words is all well and good, sometimes we need to edit that stuff we wrote. So how do you track revision while still playing the game? While everyone is kind of doing their own thing when it comes to editing, the most popular ways of doing it are…

  • Tracking editing by time and then translating that to word count. This is how I personally do it. I track editing by time and then count it in my spreadsheet at a rate of 1,000 words an hour (because I write at a rate a bit more than double that). So one hour of editing would mean I copy and paste 1,000 words of dummy text as explained above to claim that hour of editing in the game.
  • Using the monsters’ timer as your editing timer. Start the battle and, if the monster’s timer is for an hour, you edit for an hour and then just punch in the amount of words needed to defeat the monster to claim that victory. Easy enough!
  • Only count new words. This method involves copy and pasting your entire work in progress into 4TheWords and then starting the monster battle, thus only counting new words toward the monster battle. The biggest downside to this method is that it messes up your writing stats on the site because the site will still count that initial copy and paste as words written that day.

4TheWords Pomodoro style Editing Sprints

Now I want to share with you a little thing I made up to make editing on 4TheWords a little more fun. I call them Editing Sprints. First thing I do is decide what monster (or monsters) I want to fight. Then I input the total number of words required to beat them into this spreadsheet (not hitting start on the battle or battle queue yet). The spreadsheet adjusts for my current battle stats and tells me not only how many words I really need to write to beat them (because it’ll be less than what the monster is listed for because of my attack stats) and it also tells me exactly how many minutes of editing that is (at my rate my current words per hour rate).

Little monsters make for great little Pomodoro technique type editing sprints, perfect for doing intensive editing for a burst of half an hour or so and then taking a break before doing it again. Bigger monsters mean longer editing sessions which you can either break up into several pieces or just do all in one swoop. A big long editing session feels like battling a huge monster sometimes, so it’s much more in the spirit of the game!

The fun thing about this method is that it makes each editing session feel like a battle of it’s own and corresponds directly to a defeating a monster rather than there being no connection between the game and how you are working. I also like it because it leans itself to lots of smaller editing sessions with built in breaks instead of forcing yourself to just slog through endlessly with no set end point and makes the whole process of revision go faster and easier with the gameplay element to keep you motivated.

It’s about making 4TheWords work for you

The fact is, if there were no way for me to track offsite writing or editing, 4TheWords would be useless to me. My writing process depends on being able to write the way I am comfortable writing and that means not forcing myself to use an awkward online editor over my preferred tools. This is how I have made the site work for me. If you feel the same, hopefully the tips I gave above will be useful to you.

But if not, don’t worry! The beautiful thing about this writing gig is we can all do it the way that works for us and that’s fine because there is NO WRONG WAY!

But if you need a little something to keep you motivated and making writing a little bit more fun, then I highly recommend giving the free trial a shot and see if 4TheWords words for you.

Happy writing , dust hunters!

1 Comment

  1. Kate McGinty

    Thank you! This is so helpful! I used the site for NaNoWriMo, which was great for fast-drafting, but now that NaNo is over, I will be spending some of my days plotting, revising, and/or journaling. I was afraid of losing my lovely 30-day streak, but not every day forevermore can be a drafting day! This helps me not only figure out how to count what I’m doing, but also to not feel guilty about it. (Until this, I felt like all the methods I had thought of were “cheating.”) Thanks!



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About the Author

Hillary DePiano is a playwright, fiction and non-fiction writer who loves writing of all kinds except for writing bios like this.

Books and Plays by Hillary DePiano